How is Alaska's seafood faring?
August 08, 2011
Fishing occurs far away from where the catches end up, namely, retail counters and restaurants, and it is fun to get a feel for how Alaska’s seafood is faring.
The Alaska salmon brand is a top seller at the nation’s biggest supermarkets and it has dominated all promotions this summer.
An analysis of U.S. seafood sales by Seafood.com showed that salmon was identified by species or by the word "Alaska" in 70% of all retail promotions in July.
Salmon represented 21% of all seafood promotions, second only to shrimp at 32%. In raw numbers, U.S. retailers ran 266 salmon promotions in July, compared to 405 shrimp promotions. Sockeye dominated the hype, garnering 42% of all salmon promotions during the month, and selling for an average retail price of $9.99/lb.
“No other seafood commodities had nearly the same level of promotional activity as salmon and shrimp,” said John Sackton, Seafood.com editor.
Alaska wild salmon has clearly differentiated itself in a world that is mostly awash in farmed fish.
“Farmed salmon is the box wine of fish and wild Alaska salmon is like the fine varietals,” has long claimed restaurateur Roger Berkowitz of Legal Seafoods fame. Still, farmed Atlantic salmon is the single largest source for the mid consumer level in global markets - and absent from the picture for four years has been Chile, the world’s second biggest producer after Norway. A deadly fish virus collapsed Chilean production four years ago, but the industry is on its way to recovery.
Industry reports peg Chile’s production at 300,000 tons of farmed Atlantic salmon by 2013, nearly triple this year’s output – and close to Alaska’s average annual salmon haul of 377,000 tons.
“When the total world supply goes back up, will demand be strong enough to keep all salmon markets strong, as it has generally been over the past few years. That’s the really the big question,” said Gunnar Knapp, fisheries economist at the University of Alaska/Anchorage.
The good news is that demand for salmon continues to grow across the globe.
“You can make a reasonable argument that growth in demand from places like China and Brazil and other developing countries like Eastern Europe has been sufficient, so that even if the Chileans come back on line and produce at former levels, world demand will be strong enough to keep markets up in general,” Knapp said.
Norton Sound’s small boat fleet hauled back its most valuable red king crab catch ever this summer, bolstered by prices as high as $5.35/lb.
The harvest topped 400,000 pounds for a record payout of more than $2 million to the 24 permit holders that participated. The Norton Sound summer crab fishery began July 1 and lasted 33 days, the shortest season since 1994.
The golden king crab season begins August 15 in the Bering Sea, signaling the start of fall crab fisheries. Only five or six boats target golden kings in waters off the Aleutian Islands. The deep water crabs are one of Alaska’s most stable fisheries, yielding about six million pounds each year for the past decade. Bering Sea crabbers will know in late September next month their catch quotas for red king crab and snow crab. Those fisheries get underway in mid-October.
Halifax Harbor appears to be home to at least one vain lobster. The Chronicle Herald reports that an underwater camera fixed to a lobster trap somewhere under the waters of the harbor went live last week. Inside that trap is one curious and perhaps image-conscious lobster.
"I think it's a woman, and the front lens is a bit of a mirror for her," says webcam owner Ralf Pickart.
The web cam has gone viral with thousands of viewers watching the lobster crawling around the trap and quite often sitting still and staring at the lens. The trap also fills with fish when it is baited.
"As far as I know, this is the world's only lobster trap cam," Pickart said. Check it out at www.novascotiawebcams.com.
This year marks the 21st year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. My goal is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world.